Let’s help our girls turn off the fear!
If you missed it this weekend there was a great article in The New York Times about girls, risk taking and fear. The author was a former college athlete, 5 foot 10 and one of the first women in the San Francisco Fire Department. She spoke about how she was amazed time after time to see that when she would tell people what she did for a living they would ask her this one simple question, “aren’t you scared?” They never asked that of her male counterparts she noticed. Buried in this one question was the cold reality of our cultures preconceived ideas of what women/girls can handle.
According to a study in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology last year, the author points out, parents are “four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful.” At times this reaction may seem reasonable but clearly there is a drawback. Perhaps our gut reaction to tell our girls to “be careful”, “don’t do that” or “slow down” is unconscious. Some kind of prehistoric programming left over from the good ol’ days, but whatever the reason, we parents need to take a good look at the subtle messages we are sending our girls. Which may sound a lot like, “We think you are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.”
Our subtle messages are telling our girls that the chance of hurting yourself is an acceptable reason to avoid trying something. Our girls are learning to avoid activities outside their comfort zones. Soon many situations will be considered too scary, when in fact they are simply unknown. These young girls then become women and fear shows its pretty head again when it comes to making bold decisions, taking risks and speaking up for themselves.
As the author points out, “fear has become a go-to feminine trait, something girls are expected to feel and express at will.” A badge of honor that they are okay wearing because they think this is what is expected when you are a girl. I say horse poop to that! We must try to replace the words and responses we have when our girls feel afraid and try new things. We need to offer our girls the same language and expectations we offer our boys. Let’s be honest here, if our boys screamed at the sight of an insect or said they didn’t want to try the big slide, would we be so quick to say “okay, fine?” I am not sure. What I do know is that it’s never too late to do things differently. So, next time you hear your daughter say “I’m afraid” or “I can’t” how about acknowledging her fear and then push her through it, anyway!
After all if Adele, Ella Fitzgerald, Carly Simon, Barbara Streisand, Amanda Seyfried, Hayden Panettiere and Megan Fox didn’t push through their fear of being on stage think about all the great entertainment we would have missed.